Richard Thompson , Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are Record Magic

Don't mind me. I listen to records like drinking a fine wine ... slow, methodical, and savoring multiple plays in order to experience the entire album.  Many times, it takes the third spin when the music finally comes together and my soul is touched with its brilliance.  A beautiful bridge, solo, lyric or fill comes to the forefront of my consciousness that maybe I missed previously.  The radio single which initially grabs your attention opens the door to the slow burner that really seals the deal to make you fall in love with the artist's entire performance etched into vinyl or burned onto a compact disc.  As my next chapter of liner notes is about to unfold, know that there is a reason for my madness.  Although Cleveland is not part of the itinerary, this week I will touch on two new releases from three legendary performers that are touring the country together.

Richard Thompson has released a phenomenal album titled Electric that will have old fans buzzing and new fans discovering this legendary singer/guitar slinger.   I was lucky to have a seat at the intimate Station Inn during one of the Americana Music Association showcases last fall where Thompson mesmerized  the crowd with a solo performance of old and newly recorded songs.  In the audience was the great Buddy Miller and it was very peculiar that he was not there to play, but to be a spectator.  Little did we know that Miller was not only going to produce Thompson's new record, but that it was being recorded at Buddy's home studio in Nashville.

A little power trio was formed with longtime touring drummer Michael Jerome and session veteran Taras Prodaniuk on bass and mandocello.  Electric is packed with several catchy radio singles that ranks right up there with his vintage 2007 record Sweet Warrior.  From the opening rocking track "Stoney Ground", many of the eleven tracks will end up in your smartphone's personal jukebox.  But Thompson mixes things up well as the album flows through folk songs like "Salford Sunday" and "Saving The Good Stuff For You" with female vocal harmonies provided by Siobham Maher Kennedy and fiddle provided by Stuart Duncan on the later track.  A gritty blues number "Sally B" along with the jangly guitar driving "Good Things Happen To You" is mixed with ballads "My Enemy" and "The Snow Goose" which includes the lovely voice of Allison Krauss.  Two of the highlights come from the big ballad "Another Small Thing In Her Favour" which includes a nice soft electric solo and "Straight and Narrow" with a little Farfisa sounding organ thrown in for good measure.  Along with Dennis Crouch playing bass, Buddy Miller adds rhythm guitar to tracks on the New West Records label.

So if Thompson is the opener, who would be able to follow that on stage, you may ask?  Well, it took about thirty-eight years for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell to record a duet album, so this special pairing is the unique highlight receiving top billing.  Again, longtime witnesses of this man and woman will not be disappointed as Old Yellow Moon incorporates something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.   The record was produced by Brian Ahern who was behind the boards of both Emmylou's 1975 Pieces of the Sky and Crowell's 1978 Ain't Living Long Like This debut albums.  Crowell started his career being the rhythm guitarist and vocal partner to Harris in what was known as the legendary Hot Band which included James Burton (lead guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), John Ware (drums), Hank DeVito (pedal steel), and Emory Gordy Jr. (bass).  Although the band reunites, with the exception of DeVito, to play on a select number of the record's twelve tracks, most of the backing band consists of Billy Payne (keyboards), Marco Giovani (drums), Dave Hungate (bass), and Ahern on guitar.

The album kicks off with the upbeat "Hanging Up My Heart" featuring guest harmony vocals by Vince Gill. It was written by DeVito for Sissy Spacek's lone country album after her starring success as the lead in Coal Miners Daughter.  The spirited "Bluebird Wine" recorded by Harris on her first Lp has been updated by songwriter Crowell as the first two verses were rewritten.  "You know, the writer's best friend is revision" said Crowell. "I wrote that when I was 21 or 22 so now it's a little more in keeping with my sensibilities". Another beautiful number penned by Crowell is "Here We Are" that Harris sang as a duet with George Jones in 1979.   "Chase The Feeling" written by Kris Kristofferson was a new interpretation by the pair along with the classic "Dreaming My Dreams" made famous by Waylon Jennings that was a late add to the project.  Other highlights on the release are a cover of "Back When We Were Beautiful" by Matraca Berg and "Invitation to the Blues" by Roger Miller.  The more I listen to Old Yellow Moon, the more I keep falling in love with the remaining tracks. So snap this baby up when it hits record stores later this month.
Folks lay out their hard earned money for new records and the one's that only have a catchy tune with lots of filler become disappointments.  These CD's aren't even considered "pre-loved" and soon are either collecting dust or traded in.  Eventually, some of these music lovers become so disenchanted with the product that they're a casualty of the lost listening audience.  So it's my mission to remind readers that there are still exceptional artists and masterpieces being created. You just need to be pointed in the right direction ... for I am just a simple messenger to help you find that musical ecstasy.  Next week, we'll explore some new artists ... thanks for taking the time and I'm always humbled to have you join me on the journey.

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Comment by Michael on February 19, 2013 at 4:24am
Great piece. I've been fans of all of them since, well, the beginning. I got tickets to see them in NYC the day, well ok, the minute they went on sale. If my head doesn't explode with anticipation before the concert, I expect it to be a great night.
Comment by Tommie Staccato on February 19, 2013 at 5:30am

seen Rodney in Paris, way back, long time ago ; so glad I bought my ticket for the Berlin show on may 3o, Admiralspalast; brilliant venue, seating a thousand, perfect surrounding - never expected !

Comment by Jay Minkin on February 19, 2013 at 12:50pm

Thank you very much ... appreciate your comments.  Very humbled from the responses here and on FB.

Comment by Michael Fleming on February 19, 2013 at 5:01pm
Class endures
Comment by Mark Eaton on February 20, 2013 at 12:36pm

Thanks for the article Jay! I'm a huge Emmylou and Rodney guy since pretty much the beginning of their careers. I first saw the original Hot Band in the '70s when I was about 20. I have seen Rodney and Emmy many times since. A pretty cool show in San Francisco at Great American Music Hall a couple years back was Rodney solo, interspersing readings from his book "Chinaberry Sidewalks" in between tunes. The only NorCal stop on their upcoming tour is at Greek Theater in Berkeley, not one of my favorite places as I've gotten older though I enjoyed seeing the Dead and others there in the olden days.  This will be a general admission, $45 plus the dreaded "convenience fee," and it means to get up fairly close one would have to camp out in line way in advance of the gates opening, and my wife informed me that isn't going to happen. This time I agree with her. But that's not the part that really bothers me. There will be no Richard Thompson on this leg of the tour, and Emmy & Rodney are "special guests" - concert industry parlance for "opener." Who are they opening for? She & Him. M.Ward and Zooey Deschanel. Now don't get me wrong - I think M.Ward is okay - I saw him as the  solo "special guest " of Alison Krauss & Union Station at UC Davis in 2011. And aside from being cute as all get out, I do like some of Zooey's music.  But She & Him as headliners over Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell? Please. Decision makers in this one should be ashamed of themselves. So unless more NorCal dates are added where it's Emmy & Rodney at the top of the bill I guess I'll have to be content with the new CD. The odds would seem good that they'll appear together at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco in October, maybe that's when I'll get to see them together since I go every year.  

Comment by Jay Minkin on February 20, 2013 at 2:13pm

Thanks Mark ... I can see how they are trying to position Emmylou & Rodney to a younger audience, but you are right that they deserve a little more honor and respect.  I'm sure you saw a few old blues players as openers for young bands way back when.  I've seen all three performers ... Emmylou with Spyboy band, Elvis Costello duet tour, and the many guitar pull shows she has been part of.  Yes, I'm with you on seeing shows that are more intimate as I prefer 700 and under venues be it standing or sitting in the CLE/AKRON/KENT area.  Unfortunately, some tours like this one won't pass through here or be within driving distance on a weekend date.

Comment by Tommie Staccato on February 20, 2013 at 2:45pm

Mark, I'll copy your entrance here and mail it to some friends, if you don't mind;

Comment by Mark Eaton on February 20, 2013 at 3:14pm

Tommie, I don't mind a bit.

Jay, I see your point about positioning and yeah, back in the day at venues like Winterland I saw some older blues guys as openers for what were hot current rock bands. In the case of blues guys it was little different because they might never had been previously part of a twenty something's consciousness because the suburban white young folks they got their blues from Clapton and the Allman Brothers, and the black blues guys glory years centered around say Chicago were well behind them.  This is different - Emmylou in particular is still top-of-the-bill material, it isn't like Jeff Bridges as the Bad Blake character in Crazy Heart, getting out there as the opener for the hot young country guy because his star has faded.  I mentioned Hardly Strictly Bluegrass earlier. Emmylou always closes the festival on Sunday evening in front of a crowd that I would estimate at ballpark 30,000 many of which are hanging on her every word. Aside from the honor and respect aspect for Emmy and Rodney, and even taking into account the positioning thing to a younger audience it just seems like a weird business decision having them open for She & Him - kind of a head scratcher.  

Comment by Joseph May on February 20, 2013 at 3:34pm

    Rodney & Emmylou are the opening act for a ???. That's what I call "SACRILEGIOUS".  To be followed next year by some d.j. with dual turn-tables a mixin' their tunes to his hip-hop fantasies.

    O.K. Jay I just had to get that out of my system. I've seen Rodney a couple of times in the last 5 years and there would have been a third (if he hadn't gotten sick and had too cancel) at The Ark (sits around 300). He had Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez open for him on one show and Paul Thorn the other so I  get the idea about opening acts. We both know that Rodney and Emmylou are both by themselves music icons who could easily carry a show by themselves just "Look At" their body of work. So I guess you could say that seniority yet alone musical creativity and last but not least their being two of the pillars of Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Country Rock or whatever you want to call it (how about Damn Great Music).

   I realize times change and you've got new young artist's hittin' radio playlists harder but it's hard to read something like this and feel that two of the icons of the music you love and care for are not getting the Respect they deserve!!!!!!!! 

Comment by Mark Eaton on February 20, 2013 at 4:08pm

To be fair Joseph, on many of the tour stops on the itinerary so far, Rodney & Emmy are indeed the headliners with Richard Thompson as the opener. for some reason Richard isn't on the west coast dates, and Rodney & Emmy play second fiddle to She & Him.  I can definitely envision Richard joining them on a few tunes and perhaps the vice versa in those tour stops. When Emmy is at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass she gets around a lot over the course of the weekend to sit in with different folks at the various stages, you can always count on her to show up for part of Buddy Miller's set. I saw Bob Dylan with "special guest " Mark Knopfler & Band at this same Greek Theater in Bezerkeley last October. I'm a huge fan of both, and I even enjoyed old Bob and his croaky voice with the bizarre delivery to where it took you like 30 seconds to recognize "Ballad of A Thin Man." It was a little weird seeing Mark K. as an opener since I've seen him as a headliner a bunch of time with his solo band and going back to the Dire Straits days. He said in an interview that he was okay with opening for Dylan because well  - he's Bob Effing Dylan!


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.